Sermon delivered on the last Sunday after Trinity Sunday, Year B, October 25, 2015 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Job 42.1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34.1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 10.46-52.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we conduct our regular healing service. So in this brief meditation, I want us to reflect on why we should not only seek God’s healing of our various ailments—and I do not have in mind just what ails us physically, but also emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and generationally/historically—but that we should do so with the expectation that God indeed has the power and willingness to heal us. In one way or another, all our lessons this morning affirm this truth. And it is important that we get our thinking straight about this because I fear some, if not many, of us labor under the delusion that God is an angry God who is bent on punishing us for our sins. To be sure, God is not pleased when we sin, nor can he countenance or cooperate with any form of evil. But as we have seen in Job, this does not mean we should jump on the retributive theology bandwagon where we believe that our sickness and suffering is always a result of God’s punishment of our sins. To be sure, sometimes it is. But as the book of Job makes clear, many times it isn’t. If we really think God is against us rather than for us, we will very likely never turn to him to heal us. Or if we do turn to him while thinking God is against us, strange as that would be, why would we expect God to answer our prayers and cries, and heal us?
Instead, we would be much better off looking at the cross of Jesus and what the writer of Hebrews has talked about the past several weeks, today’s lesson included. God has indeed condemned our sin in the flesh by becoming human (or as the NT writers often affirm as the writer of Hebrews does in our epistle lesson today, God has sent his Son) to suffer God’s just condemnation of our sins in the flesh himself. How else could Paul make the audacious claim that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1-4)? God did this because God loves us and wants to free us from our sins that can and do make us sick. And while Jesus’ death was a once and for all event in which God made it possible for us to be reconciled to him, Jesus still intercedes for us to the Father as today’s epistle lesson attests. This is his most important ongoing priestly function because we all need a lot of help in putting to death our old rebellious self and putting on Jesus, our new obedient self, so that we are new creations in Christ through the power of the Spirit who lives in us! Jesus isn’t interceding to an angry and reluctant Father who would much rather punish us than heal us. After all, the Father sent the Son on our behalf to reconcile us to himself so that he could fully heal us. Why therefore would the Father be reluctant to listen to the Son interceding for us on our behalf? Does not make sense! Take a moment, then, and let that picture settle in your mind. Jesus, God the Son, is right now interceding for you and all that ails you, even the stuff of which you are not currently aware. This is true love in action and is a powerful indicator of God’s great love for each of us. This is why our healing ministry and services like today’s are so important! As John the Elder attests in the final chapter of Revelation, in the new heavens and earth there is a river with the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and on either side of this river is the tree of life for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.1-2). God wants us healed completely, my beloved, from our disordered hearts to our disordered bodies. Believe it, acknowledge it, seek it, if you are not already doing so.
We see God’s desire for healing and restorative justice in our psalm as well. God knows evil has the power to make us sick. We saw that Job’s suffering came at the hands of the Satan, not directly from God, mysterious and enigmatic as that is. And so the psalms consistently remind us that God will ultimately destroy evil and deliver those who put their whole hope and trust in him (i.e., the righteous) from its clutches, something the NT affirms in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit to live in and among us. The psalmist doesn’t say God promises to make us immune from all evil. Rather, the psalmist declares that God will deliver us from our troubles. This may not always look like what we ask for or expect. More about that in a moment. But if we have the humility to trust God in his promises, we will be ultimately vindicated as Job was in our OT lesson this morning.
But perhaps the most powerful indicator that God wants to heal us is found in our gospel lesson. Blind Bartimaeus, a beggar and social outcast, intercedes to Jesus on his own behalf (are we paying attention to the critical role of prayer in healing to which all our lessons this morning attest?). Jesus, son of David (a title reserved for the expected Messiah), have mercy on me! Mark does not tell us how this blind beggar had such wonderful knowledge and insight. How did he know Jesus is God’s Messiah? How did he know Jesus has the power to heal him? Mark leaves us to ponder this mystery.
As we would expect, some in the crowd try to silence this obnoxious pest. Perhaps some were irritated that a blind beggar had the audacity to ask Jesus for help. Perhaps some feared that calling Jesus the Messiah in the heart of Herod’s country might not result in good things happening. But it didn’t matter to Bartimaeus. He wanted Jesus to heal him and he wasn’t going to let anyone shut him up. In this poor beggar we see a faith that believed God through his Son can heal, and as importantly, wants to heal. Jesus does not disappoint. He stops and calls for Bartimaeus. Take heart, dude. Jesus is calling you. And when Bartimaeus came to Jesus, and our Lord asked him what he could do for him, Bartimaeus didn’t hesitate. I want to see. Bold, audacious faith indeed, Bartimaeus! Now let that sink in and become part of you. Put yourself in Bartimaeus’s place. You are crying out to Jesus to heal you and he calls you to him and asks you what he can do for you. Here is Jesus, God become human for your sake, asking you what is nearest and dearest to your heart. How will you answer?
Earlier in the story Jesus had asked James and John the same question and they told him they wanted to rule with him. They still mistakenly thought that hanging out with Jesus would produce honor and power and glory as the world defines it. Jesus did indeed answer their request, but in a way they probably didn’t want. He told them he couldn’t grant that particular request, but that they would eventually get to share in his own cup of suffering. O boy, Jesus! What fun! But this isn’t what Bartimaeus asked for. He knew Jesus had come as the integral and essential part of God’s plan to heal the nations. And so he told Jesus what was on his heart. I want you to heal me, Jesus. And after Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus abandoned his old life and followed Jesus to Jerusalem where our Lord would die for his sake and the rest of the world’s.
Returning back to you and your request, what is it that you will ask Jesus to do for you? Will you see Jesus as your get out of jail free card to continue to do what pleases you in the manner of James and John (at least at that point in their discipleship journey), or will you be more like Bartimaeus and see Jesus as the very embodiment of God who must be your Lord, and whom you must follow and give your primary allegiance if you ever hope to be really healed along with the nations?
Jesus also tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well. Other translations read, “Your faith has saved you.” This is so because the Greek word, sozo, can mean both healing and salvation. This should make sense to us because our ultimate salvation means our ultimate healing, irrespective of what happens or doesn’t happen to us here in this mortal life. This, then, is how we are to approach Jesus when we desire to be healed of all that ails us. This is how we should approach him as we come to our prayer and healing stations in a few moments. We are to approach the One who has the power to heal us with confidence and faith because our lessons remind us that Jesus has the ability and willingness to heal us because he loves us.
But a word of caution is necessary at this point because we all know people who have had a deep and real faith, and who have prayed for healing, and none came. Likewise, we have all prayed for folks to be healed and the healing never came. Does this mean we lack faith or that our faith is not genuine like Bartimaeus’s? No, because we have stories of Jesus healing folks, apparently without an attendant faith on their part, e.g., when he raised the widow of Nain’s dead son (Luke 7.11-17). So while the NT is utterly clear that faith is an important part of our healing, faith is not some kind of magic elixir. As the story of Job reminds us, God does not work on a quid pro quo basis. That was the basis for the Satan’s original challenge to God as well as the faulty thinking of Job’s comforters (and Job himself to a lesser extent). True, God did restore Job’s fortunes, but only after Job repented and realized he had gotten in over his head in challenging God’s wisdom, justice, and method of operation in his world. But Job’s repentance did not force God into restoring Job’s fortunes. If we really think that we can compel God to act on our behalf by what we do or say, we put God in a box just like Job and his companions did. God restored Job’s fortunes because God ultimately chose to do so out of his abundant and gracious mercy, not because of what Job did or did not do. As our Lord himself reminds us, God makes his sun rise on the wicked and righteous alike (Matthew 5.45), enigmatic as that is to us. But as we saw last week, God is God and we are not, and so from Job we learn that when God does not answer our prayers and requests made with a sincere faith, our proper response is to ultimately be silent and learn to trust God. This is the hardest thing we must learn to do, but learn it we must because it indicates we are learning humility, that we are not God, and this is prerequisite if we ever hope to know Jesus. As we saw last week, Jesus learned this after God rejected his pleas to be spared from suffering for the sins of the world. Job learned this lesson too. And if we are truly to give our lives to Jesus, so must we. We don’t learn this on our own power. We learn it in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and equips us to be God’s people in Jesus.
So when you come to a healing station today with your requests, come with the expectation that God can and will heal you. If he heals you, rejoice and give thanks! But if you hear Jesus say no to your request, will you trust him enough to accept his answer? As we have seen, you will never be able to do so if you do not know Jesus and his love for you. It won’t do to know about Jesus. Like Job, you must learn to know him and his love for you. So if your request for healing is denied, perhaps this is the prayer for you to pray: Help me submit to your will and trust you, Jesus. Hard as this is to do, if we learn to humbly trust God’s sometimes enigmatic will for us in all matters, especially in our suffering, our faith will proclaim the loudest to those with ears to hear that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.